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At the beginning of each season, generations of former players come back to challenge the current Penn sprint football squad.

Credit: Arabella Uhry

For most college athletes, they play their respective sport for four years, graduate and move on from it. But not for Penn sprint football.

Penn sprint football has had perhaps the strongest alumni presence in the program out of any Penn Athletics team. The alumni culture around the team is that of a family — no matter how far life takes them, everyone stays involved in one way or another.

Sure, the alumni of many Penn Athletics teams help by donating money to the specific programs, but this goes much further than that. Penn sprint football alumni are active and present in the lives of the current players, both on and off the field.

"We've get a lot of perks from our alums, they've been so super. They are the lifeline of our program," head coach Bill Wagner said.

The most prevalent example of this is the Alumni Game at the beginning of each season. Aside from the game itself, where the alums suit up and take on the current squad, the weekend consists of a mentoring panel the night before the game, and a fundraising BBQ immediately after the game. The weekend frequently sees high alumni attendance; for example, this year's rendition saw upwards of 50 former Quakers come back.

But it doesn't stop there. The team also has a mentorship program, where each active Quaker is paired with a former player based on their interests and career aspirations. This program provides team members with someone who can guide through the process of getting settled for life after college.

"It's very cool that we get to have such a, both through the mentorship program and the alumni game, have such a close connection with those guys," said senior quarterback Zack DiGregorio, who is also a columnist for the Daily Pennsylvanian. "It's definitely one of the better experiences that I didn't really expect or understand coming into the program, and it's certainly something I've gotten a ton out of."

And it's not just far-away alumni mentors who the players interact with; with many alumni situated in or around the Philly area, there is always a solid alumni showing at home and even road games. Additionally, three of the team's coaches — Sam Biddle, Dave Hubsher and Chuck Hitschler — are graduates of the program, providing even more chances for alumni relations for the current team.

"I think it's huge just because it shows that there's a lot more that sprint football has to offer than playing for four years and then you're done," senior wide receiver Marcus Jones said. "When you play sprint football, you're pretty much in it for life. It's just like a huge brotherhood."

As to why this culture persists, there are several contributing factors, but it all circles back to one man: Coach Wagner.

"He almost goes without saying. That's the core, the underpinning of everything, is him. His value in keeping people connected, it's all about Wags," former sprint football player and 2007 College graduate JT Hutchinson said.

Entering his 48th season at the helm of the team, Wagner has seen generations of players come through his program. His prolonged presence on the team has encouraged alumni to continue to stay involved, and provides another common link between past and present players.

Wagner also helps to establish a familial environment on the team, which extends after players graduate. He truly cares for each and everyone one of his players, and the alumni's consistent support of the current team is proof that he impacted each of them positively.

"The fact that he's so committed to his players and to every season, I think the alumni, they just feel that commitment and it radiates, and it attaches itself, so you just want to stay connected to the program so you can talk to Wags, and just enjoy being a part of the program as long as you can," Jones said.

So when this season is over, and the crop of seniors play their final game for Penn, they won't be able to don the Red and Blue take the field anymore. But they'll always be vital members of the team.